Concerns Over Relationship Between U.S. Officials and Alcohol Industry

A new revelation shows a "disturbing" depth of relationships between the leadership of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and alcohol industry groups.

Researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom analyzed 4,784 pages of emails exchanged between NIAAA staff members and representatives of 15 alcohol industry groups between 2013 and 2020. The correspondence was obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.

The analysis, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, focused on interactions between 12 leaders at NIAAA and representatives from two alcohol producers, two alcohol trade associations, and a not-for-profit linked to the alcohol industry.

In the correspondence, the NIAAA leaders shared extensive information about scientific research and policy issues, giving the alcohol industry access to "privileged information" on various topics, from Dietary Guidelines to alcohol and cancer, says Gemma Mitchell, Ph.D., one of the authors of the analysis.

"The depth of the relationships between NIAAA senior leaders and key alcohol industry contacts uncovered here is disturbing," says Jim McCambridge, Ph.D., co-author of the analysis.

"The study findings provide examples of alcohol public health science being opposed rather than championed by NIAAA leaders, at least in their direct communications with industry. The implications are profound when one considers that NIAAA funds the majority of the world's alcohol science."

The authors note that some NIAAA leaders subsequently moved on to work for the alcohol industry.

It is not the first time NIAAA has been scrutinized for its relationship with the alcohol industry. In 2018, the institute terminated the study meant to show that moderate alcohol consumption may be safe and lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Alcohol producers partly funded controversial research.

NIAAA is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the primary government agency responsible for biomedical and public health research. According to the NIH website, NIAAA conducts and supports alcohol-related research, collaborates with institutions and organizations engaged in alcohol-related work, and more.

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